10 Ways To Start The School Year Green And Healthy

school lunch in Lunchbots Quad box

I don’t know about you but it will be a big shift for our family to get back into the school ‘schedule’. We’ve been up late, sitting around campfires, eating whenever we feel like it and loving the lack of structure.

All of that is about to change in a big way. I’ve been blogging about healthy and green living, especially getting ready for a new school year at Non-Toxic Kids for many years. Here’s what I’ve learned from experience:

school lunch in Lunchbots Quad boxGet your no waste lunch systems going. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a school-age child using a disposable lunch generates an average of 67 pounds of waste per school year, which equates to almost 19,000 pounds of waste for only one average-sized school. That’s a lot of garbage! And the EPA also states that packing a litter-free lunch can save an average student a whopping $250 a year.

Here are some ideas about how to get going on creating a waste free, non-toxic and safe lunch system for this school year.

  • Lunch Box: These include a reusable lunch box that is not made of toxic PVC or phthalate laden plastic, but also one that can be cleaned out quickly, because lord knows there is no drudgery like cleaning out day old splattered yogurt or applesauce. Avoid the commercialized lunch boxes made from questionable metals and paint and find some safer options at Mightynest and you can sign up for a percentage of your purchase to be donated to you child’s school!
  • Reusable Water bottles: You probably already have some reusable water bottles that your child uses. For school, there are some extra considerations. Consider whether stainless steel might work best (but they do make an awful racket when they fall, and they can dent) or if silicone covered glass might work better (with the small possibility that they can break). Try to steer away from plastic, even BPA free plastic, because there are serious health questions about the BPA replacement chemicals. I recommend using stainless steel or glass as much as possible.
  • Containers: There are several options here other than plastic bags. Find a stainless steel set of containers of varying sizes for snacks and sandwiches. These can go in the dishwasher and are virtually indestructible. You’ll want small ones for snacks and small servings and a few larger ones for sandwiches. This way you can avoid the leeching of chemicals in plastic from food storage and washing.
  • Snack bags: Yes, there are another options besides single use plastic! To reduce waste, there are cloth bags you can tuck dry snacks into. For us, these get dirty and are a bit hard to manage, but I know others that have had a lot of success with them.
  • Grab a thermos: These are lifesavers for busy parents. You can heat up leftovers from last night, throw them in a thermos and lunch is (almost) done.

Pack whole foods whenever possible. Americans have gotten in the habit of thinking more packaging must mean better. We’ve got an epidemic of unhealthy eating and obesity on our hands. Lunchables and other prepackaged foods can be full of sodium, pesticides, and chemicals from the packaging. Here are some tips for packing healthy foods;

  • Include at least one serving of fresh fruit. These can be in season or frozen fruits or fresh veggies.
  • Roll up tortillas with fresh veggies and cream cheese for an easy snack or sandwich
  • If packing crackers or other crunchy snack, buy brands without artificial flavors and colorings.

Find a sturdy and non-toxic backpack.

  • It is hard to believe that some backpacks are still made with PVC. A tell-tale sign? The strong chemical smell! These are often carriers of lead, phthalates, or other harmful chemicals or toxins. These can be avoided by finding a backpack that is made from cloth. There are many great choices out there, including Lands End, LL Bean and other smaller retailers like Eco Bags.

Buy green and healthy school supplies.

  • Look for school supplies that have some or all recycled content. These can include pencils, notebooks and paper. In addition, try to buy binders, pencil boxes, and organizers that are not made from vinyl. You can tell vinyl by its strong chemical smell and smooth plastic feel. As a teacher, I can smell the vinyl school supplies and know that the air quality in the classroom is much better without these fumes.

Wishing you the best possible start to the school year for your family—including good sleep, healthy eating, and moments of joy and calm during this exciting and busy time.

What are you tips for a green and healthy start to the school year? Please share in the comments!

Imagery courtesy of Melissa

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Katy Farber

Katy Farber is a teacher, author, blogger from Vermont. She’s currently a teacher in Central Vermont and writes about education, parenting, the environment and sustainability for various websites and publications.Farber is the author of several books including 'Eat Non-Toxic: A Manual For Busy Parents'.